Issue 28 & 29 (Summer/Autumn 2003)


The present publication provides the reader with a double dose of THE LETTER, comprising issues 28 and 29. The first of these issues (Summer 2003) presents a diversity of themes reflecting the individual authors’ particular fields of interest at the moment.

Veroniek Knockaert et. al. write on the legacy of an impossible memory, that of the Holocaust as it has permeated the succession of generations to this day. Rob Weatherill writes on another sort of permeation, this time of the social fabric; permeation not by the trauma but by the ‘antedote’. (Another ‘final solution’?). Eve Watson, engaging with history as it lays itself down in the present day, casts a psychoanalytic eye on the war on Iraq. Caroline Noone looks at the clinic of autism and makes the case for the value of any inclusion of the psychoanalytic approach. Ray O’ Neill continues to develop the work on homosexuality that he began to present in issue 26 of THE LETTER Autumn 2003). An Lievrouw writes on the ethical dimension of research in the human sciences in Psychoanalysis And Research: A Matter Of Ethics.

In contrast with the many themes and many papers of the previous issue, those of the Autumn number of THE LETTER, issue 29 are less numerous and confine themselves, indeed devote themselves, to an exceptional singularity, the ‘No-thing’;…Continue reading

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THE LETTER 28 (Summer 2003) pages 1-22

Remember you are forbidden to remember.

Remember you are forbidden to forget


Although the scientific and clinical interest in children of holocaust survivors dates from the end of the 1960s, fundamental questions and controversies remain unsolved. Is the trauma of the holocaust transmitted to the next generation, and if so, by what mechanism(s)? Some authors consider the concept of the ‘second generation’ as an illusion and judge the transmission process as nonexistent. Further, many dispute whether or not the second generation displays more or less psychopathology than other comparable groups. Some scholars even emphasize that the heritage of the holocaust can positively affect the descendants. Clinicians tend to agree that it is impossible to grow up in a family with holocaust survivors without actually becoming infected with the injuries they sustained. In recent literature on the intergenerational transmission of holocaust trauma, reviewed in the first part of this paper, some authors have tried to overcome the sharp differences between the viewpoints of ‘researchers’ and ‘clinicians’. Inspired by the difficulty or even impossibility 1) to define the effects of the holocaust trauma uniformly and 2) to describe the descendants of the holocaust survivors as a homogeneous group, this new stance aims at a differentiated approach, focusing on the singularity of each subject concerned. As a first step, the development of a conceptualisation of trauma is needed that can account for the complex and…

THE LETTER 28 (Summer 2003) pages 23-37

One no longer just goes for help. Instead, one enters a whole ideology of caring.

Therapy for every possible condition. Soft, warm seduction -supportive, suggestive, hypnotic, congenial, client centred: we can heal your inner child – poetry and painting for the inner child. Get in touch with your true feelings. Co-dependent? Co-dependent no more. This course will identify and clarify co-dependent behaviours and enable you to let go unhealthy and stressful behaviours. Share things with us. The postmodern is therapeutic: a vast Americanisation of life and a commercialisation of human aspirations – all the signs of health. Been abused as a child? The group will offer you an opportunity to explore your own issues – in relation to self, your body and to others. Or, looking at issues affecting how women see themselves, the aim will be to empower women, to increase our self-worth, and to overcome shyness about our own bodies. Remember: your body is beautiful. Focus on your own healing process. The group offers a safe place to explore memories. Use your power to improve relationships. Experiment with new and more satisfying ways of relating. Learn to befriend fear and learn what it has to teach us about ourselves.

There is no aspect of modern life not catered for by some therapy. Several hundred types of therapy, perhaps more. All are now becoming accredited, professionally organised, professionally skilled, marketed, niche marketed. Undoubtedly, therapy has come to fill the place vacated by traditional religions, but, much more importantly, the place left by the end of the social. Just as genuine commitment to friendship, fellowship and…

THE LETTER 28 (Summer 2003) pages 38-46

But war cannot be abolished as long as the conditions of existence among nations are so different and their mutual repulsion so violent, there are bound to be wars. The question then arises: Is it not we who should give in, who should adapt ourselves to war? Should we not confess that in our civilised attitude towards death we are once again living psychologically beyond our means, and should we not rather turn back and recognise the truth?

Much was made of the signifier ‘civilised’ in the build-up to the U.S. led coalition invasion of Iraq. George W. Bush routinely employed the word to elucidate the cultural, political and spiritual dichotomy between the U.S. and Iraq, or ‘us’ and ‘them/Other,’ as we shall refer to these opposing forces in this paper. It is perhaps appropriate to begin with looking at the meaning of the word ‘civilised,’ of this exceptionally incisive and divisive signifier. According to the Oxford dictionary, the word ‘civilise’ has two meanings: the first, ‘to bring to an advanced stage of social development,’ and the second, ‘polite and good-mannered.’ We are thus left to surmise which meaning Mr. Bush had in mind in employing the word. Admittedly, we live in a world of meaning that heavily utilises binary divides and the us/Other divide speaks to a historic malaise in adequately elucidating and recognising difference and sameness. There is a power at work in the formation of the us/Other dichotomy that is set in motion by the employment of the signifier ‘civilisation’ that serves both as a…

THE LETTER 28 (Summer 2003) pages 47-79

Autism and autistic spectrum disorders are characterised, within the psychiatric framework, by a triad of deficits in the area of communication, social development and restricted and repetitive behaviours and interests. Currently, autism is classified as a pervasive developmental disorder, a term that is intended to cover children and adults who have severe lifelong difficulties in social and communicative skills beyond those accounted for by general intellectual delay. In the psychoanalytical field autism is classified as a childhood psychosis. Those who treat autistic children psychoanalytically, speak of psychogenic, (that is, predominantly psychological causes) and of organic, (that is, predominantly biological causes) autism. They differentiate between the Kanner-type of childhood psychosis and the childhood psychosis that most resembles adult schizophrenia.

In 1943 Leo Kanner wrote a seminal article on what he called Early Infantile Autism. This is his description of one child:

There was on his side, no affective tie to people. He behaved as if people as such did not matter or even exist. It made no difference whether one spoke to him in a friendly or harsh way. He never looked at people’s faces. Whether he had any dealings with persons at all, he…

THE LETTER 28 (Summer 2003) pages 80-95

Nommo means Word

Nommo is the force that makes things live as what they are: man or tree or animal. Nommo means word. The rabbit has the life it has – not a rat life or mongoose life – because it is named rabbit, mvundla. A child is not alive, claims Nelson, until it is named. I told him this explained a mystery for me. My sister and I are identical twins, so how is that from one single seed we have two such different lives? Now I know. Because I am named Adah and she is named Leah.

Thus Adah, a fifteen year old girl learns from the Congolese boy Nelson in Barabara Kingsolver’s novel The Poisonwood Bible not just about life and culture in the Congo, but more importantly about the nature and power of language itself, that it gives not just meaning, signification, but life, identity. The Lacanian discourse recognises this very power of language, the significance of the Symbolic Order, and how it dominates our understanding of the world. Because it is indeed our understanding of the world, there being no understanding outside of language, since it is through language that our understanding is expressed, thought, experienced and written.

He pointed to his mouth. Notnmo comes from the mouth, like water vapour, he said: a song, a poem, a scream, a prayer, a name, all these are nomtno. Water itself is nommo, of the most important kind, it turns out. Water is the word of the ancestors…

THE LETTER 28 (Summer 2003) pages 96-108

In our society, the notion of knowledge has become dependent on the notion of science. The latter holds that knowledge can be collected and classified through formal abstraction and that it can be made accessible, provided that methodological rules are respected. By following a methodological guiding system, scientists aim at getting as close as possible to reality in as objective a way as possible. In line with this trend non-analysts and analysts often discuss the scientific status of psychoanalysis. The general tenor of these discussions is that psychoanalysts should concentrate on the scientific foundations of psychoanalysis. A remarkable trend in these discussions is the tendency to consider science as equivalent to statistically based research.

Considering human sciences in general, it is remarkable that quantitative research should be considered the most suitable method to obtain knowledge on human functioning. This kind of research is bound to live up to standards of objectivity (using standardized samples, objective and reliable measuring procedures, etc.) and ought to produce purified knowledge, that is, quantified knowledge that is not contaminated by a researcher’s subjectivity. Qualitative research implies an alternative approach, since it is based on ‘data in the form of words -that is, language in the form of extended text’.

In the first part of this paper we will discuss how qualitative interview research can be relevant to (Lacanian) psychoanalysis. We will…

THE LETTER 29 (Autumn 2003) Pages 111-164

Lacan’s theory of melancholia?

When I first decided on the topic of melancholia from a Lacanian point of view as the basis for what I am about to present today, I thought the most obvious thing to do would be to start by outlining Lacan’s theory on melancholia, and then to ‘illustrate’ this theory with some clinical material. However, I found out surprisingly that explicit pointers towards a theory of melancholia are very scarce in Lacan s work.

Firstly, it seems that Lacan never challenged the validity of this very old clinical category. Indeed, as you may already know, melancholia is one of the oldest psychopathologies to have been diagnosed as such. It literally means ‘black bile’, because in their medical theories ancient Greeks ascribed ‘black thoughts’ to the influence of some mysterious ‘black bile’. Over the course of Western history, melancholia also acquired an important cultural significance, becoming closely associated with creative genius, and fuelling all kinds of aesthetic theories – we became convinced that ‘black is beautiful’. Finally however, at the end of the nineteenth…


THE LETTER 29 Autumn 2003, Pages 188-202

There is a brief moment in literary history which is of interest in the context of Lacan’s theorisation of the coming into being of the subject. It is located at the juncture that Lacan designates as that of the birth of modern science and of the subject of psychoanalysis; in other words, the seventeenth and early eighteenth century. In literature, this moment corresponds to the decline of tragedy and the rise of the novel. It is tempting to see in these two literary forms a version of the difference Lacan establishes between the mortal blow of the St. Augustine anecdote and the steady unfolding of muted promise which is the Ego-ideal, outcome of the Oedipal encounter with prohibition. It is probably only at this particular historical juncture that the comparison can validly be made. Novels like Robinson Crusoe and the Bildungsroman of the eighteenth century fit the bill very well, while the modern novel or even older works such as Richardson’s Clarissa do not. What is in question is the move away from destiny to domesticity; from Shakespeare to Defoe, from Racine to Balzac. There are several ways of theorizing this shift, among them an analysis of the rise of a pragmatic progressive middle class. Since Lacan so emphatically links the appearance of the subject of psychoanalysis to the birth of modern science, one might also consider the refusal of the new scientific spirit to entertain the concept of impossibility. It is said of Galileo that he urged his contemporaries to measure everything that could be measured and to render measurable that which could not. Tragedy is however, of course the domain of the impossible. It is also, as Lacan saw, the domain of a time which does not belong to history. The novel, as Terry Eagleton says in a recent work, can be seen ‘as a matter of chronos, of…

THE LETTER 29 (Autumn 2003) Pages 203-222

“What, he wondered, did dying mean?

It was as though the sound of the word

must tell him. How frightful it must be

not to see, or hear, or feel anything. He

completely failed to notice his faulty

conclusion … “

When in 1955 Freud’s day-to-day record of his encounters with a young obsessional man was published for the first time as an addendum to the case history of 1909, we were privileged. We were privileged not only in so far as we were permitted a rare access to the historical moment of the process and the progress of Freud’s day-to-day engagement, by means of which psychoanalysis was emerging, unfolding as it was being practiced, but also in so far as the rambling record, in a very tangible way, manages to carry, and sustain within its text the presence of the subject with all it’s vital force. There is evidence there of the tension, the liveliness inherent to the clinical encounter, which is often eradicated in more prepared reports of the case history, where the ‘meaning-full’ theoretical constructs tend to hermetically seal, in the symbolic vaults, the real nut of…

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